At the beginning of Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who walks 1000 miles over a four-year period along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer’s Club) teases us with the instrumental introduction to the song “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” as performed by Simon and Garfunkel. Right before the vocal starts the song stops. Every ten-minutes or so we hear the beginning of the song again … and again.
Somewhere around the middle of Wild we hear the song again but his time the vocals burst forth. It coincides with Witherspoon having found her path on her wayward journey. For the first hour or so we realize that she is over her head. She has the wrong size shoes and has brought along the incorrect heating element for her portable stove. “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail. Yes I would.” Only now Witherspoon has found her sea legs (to use a metaphor of travel). The audience feels her newfound confidence in her mission and the song reinforces that fact.
What a brilliant piece of filmmaking on the part of Vallée. Throughout Wild we witness what has brought Witherspoon to this phase of her life through flashbacks that illustrate a traumatic past: Abandonment by her father; the death of her mother; a disastrous marriage filled with affairs and drugs. Along the way we meet fellow travelers, most of them good, some of them bad.
Wild is a road movie on foot, based on a true story, and the resulting book by Cheryl Strayed. The feeling Wild achieves is overwhelming as we go from incredible vista-to-vista and Strayed gains the courage of her self-realization. Wild is currently unwinding at the River Oaks Three and expands to other theaters this weekend.
- Michael Bergeron